A crowd of pro-Second Amendment libertarians reveled in their First Amendment rights Wednesday, shooting off water guns and posing for pictures near the Washington Monument under the watchful eye of a SWAT team.
The event was organized in large part through social media, and attendance was lower than anticipated. Austin Petersen, the event's primary organizer, showed no disappointment that "around 10" participants showed up and thanked a larger contingent of print and television reporters for attending.
Under overcast skies, the activists marched from near Arlington Cemetery in Virginia toward the National Mall. There were no arrests or confrontations with law enforcement, but some attendees speculated that a helicopter overhead was surveilling them.
Along the way activists picked up a few interested passersby, including a father and his two young sons – who were originally headed to an event featuring anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan near the White House.
Most of the attendees traveled a short distance to participate – at least one person arrived alone after seeing the "Toy Gun March" Facebook event – and were not affiliated with one particular activist organization; they included a "Captain America" look-alike carrying an enormous American flag and Gadsden Flag-toting friends.
Petersen led the festivities, which included face-painting, the presentation of donated toys to Toys for Tots and a Pop Tart-eating contest, designed to mock Maryland school officials for suspending a 7-year-old earlier this year for chewing the snack into what looked like a gun. An adult was deemed the most nimble nibbler and proudly posed for photos; he was presented with a frisbee.
Petersen, who runs the blog Libertarian Republic, repeatedly stressed that the event was about libertarian values, including private charity, the right to bear arms and the freedom of children to play with fake weapons. A few curious tourists accepted informational fliers.
A U.S. Park Police SWAT team watched from around 50 feet away as kids squirted each other with water guns. A few of the men appeared visibly bored. The officers confirmed to U.S. News they were there for the permitted event. One participant sauntered over to jokingly report a crime, telling the officers that President Barack Obama violated the law by approving bailouts for big banks.
Before calling it a day, 14 people enthusiastically took part in a water gun battle, chasing each other through a muddy field near the Washington Monument. A few were equipped with water-pellet guns that shoot small water capsules – in a less-powerful imitation of paintball guns – and others wielded Super Soakers or simple squirt guns.
A National Park Service ranger who had hovered near the group pulled out her camera to take photographs of the water gun fight; she rolled her eyes when U.S. News asked if she was assigned to chaperone the activists.
"I think they're too old for chaperones," she said.